The Michael Kelly Award

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Connor Sheets


At first glance it seems like something out of Charles Dickens: a local sheriff is given vast sums to be used for the feeding inmates in the county jail—and effectively told he can keep whatever he doesn’t spend. The incentives were perverse, and the sheriff—in modern-day Alabama—took full advantage: serving food that was literally unfit for human consumption while buying a vacation home on the Gulf Coast. As Connor Sheets discovered, this episode was but one in a long trail of malfeasance. His series for the Alabama Media Group is a case study of dogged investigative reporting—and of the need for the kind of high-quality local journalism that is now endangered.


Connor Sheets is an investigative reporter for Alabama Media Group. From spurring state officials to clear the way for thousands of felons to restore their voting rights to driving Gov. Kay Ivey to bring an end to the practice of sheriffs pocketing state funds meant to feed inmates, his work has had a real impact since he moved to Alabama in 2015. Born on Long Island, Sheets grew up in Frederick, Maryland, where he delivered newspapers as a youth and landed his first reporting job after graduating from the University of Maryland in 2007. Sheets, 33, has since worked as a reporter for publications in New York and Alabama, and has reported from four continents. He is currently a member of ProPublica’s 2019 Local Reporting Network and was a 2016-17 Donald W. Reynolds Institute fellow. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Mary, and their joyous young daughter, Violet.

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